A Tale of Two Swamps – Getting to grips with the fishery

We snaked our way in between all the activity; Ian and I immediately observed with some interest and possible suspicion because of our skin colour, but there was no hostility to our own inquisitiveness.  As we made our way to the lakeshore we saw the limnal side of the operations.  Several boats were heading from all possible directions towards this one spot – some we could easily see from a distance were piled high with more of these fish boxes.  On the hard were about twenty large canoes and many other boats.  Men were heavy lifting the cargoes ashore; women would take over and be haggling with the fishermen; these were the middle men who were wholesaling the produce.  Then eventually the hauliers got involved and the shipments were placed on the back of their trucks and after a long wait, the huge old rusting lorries would roar into life and start their precarious trip up the single track road to Monze and their markets.

Other commodities were being traded here as well as the fish and the home items; large fuel containers came in from the lake empty and returned full; bags of ice, and people  – some off the bus with all their belongings were carefully transferred over to canoes for the final part of their journeys; and similarly transferred in the other direction.  This was like a major junction on a railway network – the point through which all activity occurred; and we happened to stumble on it for one of only two days a week when it occurred.

Ian was interested to see inside the crates and boxes but once packed their owners were loathe to break them open.  But there were also buckets, bags, and canoes full of fish.  I saw the first examples of an American Crayfish that was causing havoc throughout the fishery.  These large freshwater lobsters had been cultivated in fish farms nearby but, inevitably, had escaped into the river system.  As bottom feeders and scavengers, they found ample pickings in the swamp, became highly adaptable to their new environments and their numbers have skyrocketed.   The local people were at a loss as to how to quell the numbers of this alien species.  They complained to us that the sharp pincers were ripping open their nets and cages and releasing the fish catch as well as damaging their equipment.  Ian had a solution.  He said pop them in boiling water and serve them up with garlic and butter.  The locals had never thought them edible.

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